Most readers will remember and recognize the Fisk Jubilee Singers, the a capella choral group from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. The Jubilee Singers were organized in 1871 and their tours were (and continue to be) a successful means of raising funds for the institution. The popular group is known for singing spirituals as well as a wide variety of other songs.
The Tarboro Jubilee Singers, organized in 1976 by Walter Plemmer, Jr., is modeled somewhat on the Fisk Jubilee Singers. The group had a “great desire … to express themselves creatively, to sing songs of intellectual and aesthetic value, to perform monuments written by the world’s outstanding masters of composition, to keep alive in the hearts of people the wealth of Black Spirituals that represent a major segment of American music and to enhance the musical quality of life of the community.”
Performances by the Singers included Union Baptist Church, St. Paul A.M.E. Zion Church, Week-long production of “The Edgecombe Story,” Tarrytown Mall in Rocky Mount, Delta Sigma Theta in Greenville, Edgecombe County Bicentennial Commission, WNCT-TV ( two half-hour concerts) in Greenville, Wells Chapel (“Messiah” accompanied by the ECU String Quartet) in Greenville, Tarboro High School (“Messiah” accompanied by the ECU String Quartet), Elizabeth City State University Alumni Association in Snow Hill, Celebration honoring Dr. M. A. Ray, All America City Celebration, and Celebration honoring Mr. B. G. Burnette.
Organizer Walter Plemmer, Jr., came from a musical family. His parents, Walter and Lucy Dunn Plemmer, recognized his talent and supported his musical education and endeavors. His first piano teacher was William P. Arnold, husband of Florence Thorpe Arnold who was a life-long friend of Walter’s.
Walter Plemmer, Jr., graduated from W. A. Pattillo High School in 1944 and went on to earn a B.A. degree from Knoxville College in Knoxville, Tennessee, and a M.A. degree from North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina. He taught English and music in Edgecombe County schools for 36 years, first at Conetoe High School, then at North Edgecombe High School. He retired in 1984.
Walter Plemmer, Jr., married Martha Albritton, and they had one child, a son, Andre. He died in 2000 at age 79.
While Walter Plemmer, Jr., taught music for more than fifty years and mentored students in every area of music, he is best remembered today for the Tarboro Jubilee Singers which he created for Tarboro’s Bicentennial celebration in 1976. The original members were sopranos Salina Forbes, Alice Hart, Elizabeth Moten, Suejette Jones, Lorna Lloyd, Rita Ricks, Carrie Stanley, and Gracie M. Vines; altos Lillie Boyd, Alma Cobb, Joanne Knight, Jessie Pitt, Florence Arnold Armstrong, Lottie Staton, Charlotte Strong Privette, and Ingrid J. Wesley; tenors Winston Bryant, Milton Pippen, Jimmy Stanley, James Vines, and J. Lamar Baum; and basses McCoy Brown, Horace Hussey, Warren Jones, Reginald Moss, and Alton Wesley.
Later additions to the Jubilee Singers were sopranos Fannie Costen, Nettie Hart, and Dorothy Hunter; altos Antoinette Battle, Miriam H. Carraway, Catherine Jones, and Dorethea Walston; tenors Donald Rogers, Kelly Andrews, and Thomas Bratcher; and basses Clifford Coles, and Joe Jones.
After Walter Plemmer, Jr.’s death, Lorna Lloyd carried on the direction of the Tarboro Jubilee Singers. Ms. Lloyd, the daughter of Bennie and Lowney H. Pitt, graduated from W. A. Pattillo High School in 1951. She went on to earn a B.S. degree in Elementary Education at Fayetteville State University where she also studied music and was a pianist for the college choir. Later, at East Carolina University, she obtained certification as a Speech Clinician and Reading Specialist.
Ms. Lloyd first taught at the Living Hope Elementary School, then in the Rocky Mount and Tarboro City School systems. In the Tarboro Schools she became a speech clinician, was promoted to be Director of the Exception Children Program, and retired as a Test Coordinator. She retired June 30, 1987.
The last performance of the Tarboro Jubilee Singers was at the History Days at the Blount-Bridgers House in Tarboro in September 2006. As Mrs. Lloyd said, “We tried to keep it going, but illness and the passing of members did not leave us with a balanced group.”
C. Rudolph Knight is a Tarboro native, a retired community college educator, and a research historian.